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Jun 17 2013

Parsing the Center For Inquiry’s Non-Statement about Ron Lindsay and the Women in Secularism 2 Conference

UPDATE: Ron Lindsay has apologized for his remarks. I have accepted his apology.

Parsing the Center For Inquiry’s Non-Statement about Ron Lindsay and the Women in Secularism 2 Conference

So CFI has issued a statement, in response to the controversy over Ron Lindsay’s opening remarks at the recent Women in Secularism 2 conference.

No. Correct that. CFI has issued a non-statement, in non-response to the controversy over Ron Lindsay’s insulting, contemptuous, patronizing, wildly inaccurate, grossly unprofessional opening remarks at the recent Women in Secularism 2 conference, in which he used his position of authority with the organization to scold the attendees and speakers, give them an ill-informed lecture on the history of feminism, and request that they talk about sexism and misogyny with more moderation and respect.

Background, in case you haven’t been following this:

A Blatant Misrepresentation — And An Insulting One: The Content of Ron Lindsay’s WiS2 Talk
He Treated Us With Contempt: The Context of Ron Lindsay’s WiS2 Talk

Here is their non-statement, in full:

Center for Inquiry Board of Directors Statement on the CEO and the Women in Secularism 2 Conference

The mission of the Center for Inquiry is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.

The Center for Inquiry, including its CEO, is dedicated to advancing the status of women and promoting women’s issues, and this was the motivation for its sponsorship of the two Women in Secularism conferences. The CFI Board wishes to express its unhappiness with the controversy surrounding the recent Women in Secularism Conference 2.

CFI believes in respectful debate and dialogue. We appreciate the many insights and varied opinions communicated to us. Going forward, we will endeavor to work with all elements of the secular movement to enhance our common values and strengthen our solidarity as we struggle together for full equality and respect for women around the world.

I would like to take a moment to parse this statement.

Center for Inquiry Board of Directors Statement on the CEO and the Women in Secularism 2 Conference

“The CEO.” Note that nowhere in this statement do they mention Ron Lindsay by name — even though this entire controversy was about his words and actions.

Translation: “The CFI board is going to start right out of the gate by declining to speak clearly and directly about this matter, and by prioritizing spin control over content. Also, we’re not going to make it easy for people to Google this.”

The mission of the Center for Inquiry is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.

Translation: “Gee, we’re awesome.”

The Center for Inquiry, including its CEO, is dedicated to advancing the status of women and promoting women’s issues, and this was the motivation for its sponsorship of the two Women in Secularism conferences.

Translation: “Gee, we’re awesome. We are especially awesome when it comes to women’s rights. See, we put on this conference and everything! We therefore are totally feminist and stuff. So stop yelling at us about how our CEO acted like a sexist asshole and treated the feminists in this movement with contempt.”

The CFI Board wishes to express its unhappiness with the controversy…

Okay. This is an important one.

“Its unhappiness with the controversy.”

Not its unhappiness with Ron Lindsay’s statement, or with the context of this statement, or with any of his follow-up statements. Its unhappiness with the controversy.

Translation: “The CFI Board wishes to express its unhappiness with the people who raised a shitstorm about this incident, and with the fact that so many people got so pissed off about it. This has been a huge pain in the ass for us, and we’re really irritated about it — but we don’t actually understand why people are so angry. Either that, or we don’t care.”

…surrounding the recent Women in Secularism Conference 2.

And this is another important one.

“…surrounding the recent Women in Secularism Conference 2.”

Surrounding the conference.

Not “surrounding Ron Lindsay’s opening remarks at the conference.” Not “surrounding Ron Lindsay’s subsequent writings defending these remarks.” Surrounding the conference.

I am going to spell this out as calmly and clearly as I can: The problem was not the conference. The conference was incredible. The conference was first-rate. The conference was one of the best I’ve ever attended… and I’ve attended a lot. The problem was with Ron Lindsay’s opening remarks, and with his subsequent writings defending these remarks.

So. Translation: “The CFI board wishes to use misdirection, equivocation, obfuscation, and corporate bafflegab to deflect attention away from the anger at Ron Lindsay, and to re-direct it towards the conference itself.”

CFI believes in respectful debate and dialogue. We appreciate the many insights and varied opinions communicated to us.

Translation: “The CFI board is taking the cowardly position of valuing debate on important issues that concern the community, without being willing to actually take a stand on these issues. To assist us in this endeavor, we are going to create false equivalencies and use the golden mean fallacy.”

Going forward, we will endeavor to work with all elements of the secular movement to enhance our common values and strengthen our solidarity…

And this is a really, really important one. Possibly the most important one of all of them.

“We are going to work with all elements of the secular movement.” “Enhance our common values and strengthen our solidarity.”

Translation: “Fuck the divisive feminists who want us to disavow the abusively misogynist element in this movement.”

Translation: “We are willing to work with all elements of the secular movement — including the ones who have been targeting a persistent campaign of hatred, harassment, abuse, and threats of violence, rape, and death towards feminist women in this movement. And including the ones who respond to this hatred, harassment, abuse, and threats with dismissal, denial, trivialization, hyper-skepticism, false equivalencies, derailing, changing the subject, and accusations of divisiveness. After all — some of these people are big names, or big donors to our organization, and we can’t afford to alienate them! We expect the feminists in this movement to make peace and play nice with the people who have been harassing, abusing, and threatening them — as well with the people who have been ignoring, denying, deflecting, and trivializing this issue. And we expect the feminists in this movement to stop making us uncomfortable with their demands that we take a stand on this.”

… as we struggle together for full equality and respect for women around the world.

Translation: “But really — we’re awesome! We’re in favor of women’s rights and stuff! We’re just not willing to actually do anything about it that’s in any way difficult.”

Translation of the entire non-statement: “We don’t see anything wrong with what Ron Lindsay said, or the context in which he said it. At any rate, we’re not willing to publicly acknowledge that we see anything wrong with what Ron Lindsay said or the context in which he said it. We are deeply unhappy that we have to deal with this controversy. We really wish this whole thing would just die down and go away. But we’re not willing to do anything at all in response to it. We are not willing to take even a symbolic action of censuring Lindsay, or asking him to apologize, or apologizing on his behalf. We are not willing to make any gesture at all indicating that Lindsay’s words and actions in this incident do not represent CFI, and that this is not the direction CFI intends to take in the future. So we’re going to issue a bland, equivocating, weaselly, double-speak statement that doesn’t address the issue in any substantial way, or even in any insubstantial and symbolic way.”

I’m currently writing a separate statement on what I’m doing in response to this, and what I’m going to suggest you do. But I wanted to get this out right away.

34 comments

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  1. 1
    Kevin

    What I’m going to do is take CFI off my donations list. And every and all CFI events off my calendar.

    It should die a slow painful death.

  2. 2
    Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle

    If I were Melody Hensley, I’d be polishing my resume about now.

  3. 3
    Dave W

    So. Translation: “The CFI board wishes to use misdirection, equivocation, obfuscation, and corporate bafflegab to deflect attention away from the anger at Ron Lindsay, and to re-direct it towards the conference itself.”

    So… I guess CFI’s board has given up on the “reason” portion of their mission statement.

  4. 4
    smhll

    So… I guess CFI’s board has given up on the “reason” portion of their mission statement.

    It is so fucking hard to win an argument or even have a discussion with someone who is hugging a straw man the way Ron Lindsay is on “shut up and listen” and “privilege”. His claim that the word “privilege” is used only to silence has not been backed by evidence. (I’m not counting the notion that someone read something like that somewhere as evidence.)

  5. 5
    sezit

    “unhappiness with the controversy” means they think there should be no controversy, and will you all stop making this into a controversy already?

  6. 6
    muggleinconverse

    What are they thinking? No statement would have been better than this drivel. If the board is really so obtuse as to completely miss the true reason why people are angry, they need to get a grip on reality. We know that isn’t the case though. They fully understand why they are in hot water and if they think a bunch of skeptics are going to be pacified by this non-statement, they have another thing coming.

  7. 7
    maudell

    Wow, a shiny “we’re sorry you were offended” statement!

    If they’re so dedicated to science, you’d think they’d read, I don’t know, the scientific papers on sexism? Then they might clue in as to why Lindsay’s attitude perpetuates women’s subordination. How a national organization assumes they can thrive by marginalizing women and minorities is beyond me. I’m interested in a strong, diverse atheist movement, and I assumed CFI was too.

    I’m torn now as to whether I should keep encouraging CFI Canada. I’ll have to check into their affiliation, but I want zero of my money and time to go towards the American counterpart.

    And fuck that “WiS2 controversy” bullshit. Fuck that. Lindsay’s speech, and especially his doubling down and not-pology is all that is ‘divisive’ here. I’m still waiting for a single example of a feminist woman atheist telling men they can’t have an opinion because of their gender. So far we’ve only gotten atheist men (who by definition can’t be using this ‘silencing’ technique) and non-atheist women (one of whom came to Lindsay’s attention because of AVfM hate site).

  8. 8
    Rawnaeris, Lulu Cthulhu

    Maudell, it’s not even a “we’re sorry you are offended.” It’s a why did you make a controversy out of this?

  9. 9
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    After all — some of these people are big names, or big donors to our organization, and we can’t afford to alienate them!

    I think this might be at the heart of it – they don’t want to alienate or publicly oppose Richard Dawkins and friends, due to fealty, friendship, funds,… They should stop and read their statement in light of the history of social justice movements. I’m sure they would condemn similar statements from organizations in the past in the context of civil rights, gay rights, the struggle against anti-Semitism and even earlier feminist movements. Theirs is in a long and pitiful line of cowardly, immoral statements. Perhaps someone should compile an anthology….

    Nothing destroys the claims* about people like Dawkins (educated white males from rich countries) being in the moral vanguard or the promoters of “better angels” than his/their utter failure in this matter. They shouldn’t have had to think twice about condemning and trying to stop the harassers, and instead they acted as the reactionary old guard. I believe a good deal of the blame for what women and feminists in the movement have had to go through the past two years rests with Dawkins and a few other men who could have made a huge difference in how things played out if they had taken a moral and decent stand.

    These are people who were willing to publicly announce that they would stop supporting the NCSE a few years ago because it catered too much to religion and showed a prejudice against (especially gnu) atheists. But when women are subject to ongoing campaigns of harassment, vilification, and threats, they were either silent or sided with the harassers.

    *(claims generally made by…them)

  10. 10
    brianl

    Some people simply don’t get it. Some people simply never will get it.
    It’s a pity that CFI has such a poor board. They’ve obviously taken the view that this will all blow over and go away. It’s not.

  11. 11
    Parse

    A bit of further cynical analysis.
    The second paragraph, that says the only thing slightly negative about the abuse (my bad, controversy), refers to CFI in the third person. “its CEO.” “its sponsorship.” “its unhappiness.”
    The third paragraph, about coming together and ‘enhancing our common values’ (pro tip: the harassment isn’t a common value) is written in first person. “We appreciate.” “we will endeavor.” “our common values.” “our solidarity.” “we struggle.”
    I’m probably overreading this, but to me, this says “We didn’t really want to write that second paragraph; we don’t identify with those points, and we aren’t really unhappy with the controversy. We do think we should remain focused on our common ground and the mission statement – and do you see anything about feminism in that? Neither do we.”

  12. 12
    theobromine

    Maudell,

    Though Centre for Inquiry Canada was initially started by CFI-US (I guess more properly called “CFI Transnational”), we are now an independent entity, with a separate board of directors. That being said, there is often co-operation between branches on both sides of the border. Also, however much I disagree with Lindsay and the CFI US BoD, it’s worth remembering that there are still a lot of awesome staff and volunteers in CFI US, including the ones who ran WiS2, which I agree was first-rate.

  13. 13
    AlanMac

    I think you missed the biggest spin phrase in the whole statement.

    “Going forward…”

  14. 14
    Ubi Dubium

    “corporate bafflegab” – perfect. That’s exactly it.

    I made myself write my own response to this statement before I came over to read yours. My reaction was pretty much the same. That was not an answer from CFI. That was refusing to take a stand on anything with some shallow buzzwords to try to get the problem to go away. I’m still ticked off, and I think this empty response from the board has done nothing to resolve anything.

  15. 15
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    It’s worth remembering that there are still a lot of awesome staff and volunteers in CFI US, including the ones who ran WiS2, which I agree was first-rate.

    Then it’s time they a) took over or b) left. We can’t keep saying that we’re supporting women but hang on to the institutions intent on keeping the status quo. No more than we should donate to the Catholic Church because of soup kitchens while they cover up rape, kill women who need medical procedures they don’t approve of, and contribute to the spread of AIDS. It’s time for the atheist/sceptic/humanist/secularism movement(s) to come of age and take a stand. No more of this waffling, “dialogue with both sides” bullshit. Can’t keep the baby in the bathwater forever while it just grows stagnant and gets slimier and slimier. The baby must come out.

  16. 16
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    By the way, this is the open letter to the NCSE to which I was referring.

  17. 17
    John Kruger

    So to follow up the not-pology, they go with a not-even-a-pology.

    There has been plenty of time for the board to read what has been spelled out to them many, many times. If they are not willing to educate themselves by now, there is no reason to think they will ever be motivated to learn what was wrong. I guess they figure it is all “hysterical womenfolk” or something. The wildly patronizing nature of the statement says more than enough.

    I’m all done with the CFI. It is too bad the leadership has done the rest of the organization such a disservice. If the head of the organization cannot be held accountable, then I fail to see how any part of it will ever be held accountable. We are not trying to run the Catholic church here. Supporting the CFI is now also supporting the willfully blind eye of its leadership, and I simply will not do that, regardless of how the rest of the organization is. Time for anyone not on board with this garbage to find a new organization, at least until the CFI can demonstrate more competent leaders.

  18. 18
    Pierce R. Butler

    … some of these people are big names, or big donors to our organization, and we can’t afford to alienate them!

    Eh? Vacula’s lame little posse hardly count as big spenders, nor have I so far seen any reason to spell “slymepit” with a “$” sign.

    SC @ # 9 points toward Richard Dawkins and his foundation. While both of those have earned their share of criticism, I doubt they figure heavily in CFI’s income reports (they may well view them as fund-raising competition), and would not expect that RD would boycott future CFI events if CFI had somehow managed a constructive response to this debacle.

    Whatever motivated this non-response, plain greed for dollars doesn’t seem to be the case at present. Considering the rocky history of CFI leadership, and Lindsay’s “coup” against founder Paul Kurtz, so far I prefer the hypothesis of a defensive good-ol’-boys’ club reflexively rallying around their leader. In any case, the facts available so far (have I missed something?) show only that CFI’s upper echelon has closed ranks against a perceived external threat, but tell us next to nothing about why they have chosen such reflexive & counterproductive defensiveness.

  19. 19
    kosk11348

    Wow, it took them almost a month to issue a response, and this is it? What a slap in the face. This brusque dismissal speaks volumes about their true values.

  20. 20
    Randomfactor

    May be reading too much into this myself, but my Facebook page this morning included one of my contacts pointing to a CFI-sponsored petition to Congress against the proposed abortion restrictions. I can’t say for sure whether it was “look at us, we’re awesome on women stuff” or not but it sure felt like it.

    My immediate impulse would normally be to sign on. My secondary impulse this morning was to look for a petition sponsored by a group whose overall goals are more in line with mine. I’m going with my secondary.

  21. 21
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    No, I don’t think it’s primarily donations, either, other than the likely belief that burning a bridge with Dawkins would lose them some ability to promote. I think it’s mostly ties of friendship and loyalty. Here’s the board:

    http://www.centerforinquiry.net/about/corporate_governance

    I don’t know much about any of them, but it appears that Cornwell works with Dawkins. Russell Blackford has had a longstanding relationship with CFI, it looks like, and I believe a friendship with Lindsay.(One of Lindsay’s earlier statements seemed especially insistent on supporting him, IIRC). I don’t think they have the courage to publicly condemn the actions Dawkins and Blackford have been condoning, encouraging, and participating in all this time. So, yes, old boys’ club. And I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a genuine antipathy to feminism among them. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if there were some who wanted to speak out but were shut down by the others. Though no one’s resigned over it or issued a public dissent….

  22. 22
    Steve Sirhan

    @Kevin. CFI only really cares about rich donors. Lindsay made that clear a year ago, when he laid out his version of what humanism does and does not entail, as I blogged about: http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2012/07/gnuatheist-fail-being-obscenely-rich-is.html

    That said, I see this as being as much a tussle between old-line Gnus and kiddie-pool Atheist-Plus Gnus as much as anything.

    Since I’m not a Gnu, go ahead and fight away!

  23. 23
    Greta Christina

    Eh? Vacula’s lame little posse hardly count as big spenders, nor have I so far seen any reason to spell “slymepit” with a “$” sign.

    Pierce R. Butler @ #18: There probably aren’t big names and big donors in the slymepit… but there are big names and big donors in the much larger crowd of people who respond to the slymepit, and to other misogyny and sexism in the community, with dismissal, denial, trivialization, hyper-skepticism, false equivalencies, derailing, changing the subject, and accusations of divisiveness.

  24. 24
    mofa

    I was extremely disappointed…I was expecting Melody to go.

  25. 25
    Uncle Ebeneezer

    Wow. I’ve seen some empty non-apologies in my day, but this is setting a whole new bar for avoiding the issue. They might as well have written “We’re sorry to have to write this statement. Sincerely- CFI”

  26. 26
    oolon

    >>mofa is Mark Senior… Out for a troll around town now he’s been outed as a harasshole here -> http://freethoughtblogs.com/lousycanuck/2013/06/15/news-from-down-under-the-true-skeptical-women-side-with-the-guys/

  27. 27
    juniperann

    What is it with a skeptic organization taking big, fantastic steps in the right direction that causes the head of the organization to publicly flame out and take them all down with him? First JREF, now CFI. :/

  28. 28
    miles

    They should have gone with “no comment” – same amount of content as their press release, but straight to the point…

  29. 29
    leeharrison

    Mofa/Mark Senior; I am a fellow Adelaidean and an atheist who was looking for a meetup group/organisation/get-together in Adelaide. Now that I know you are a part of Adelaide Atheists I definitely will not be joining. My free time is limited and I have no wish to share it with pathetic, terrified little shits like you. Instead: shut up. Go away. You are embarrassing. I am ashamed to share any demographic label with you.

    Greta: sorry, I haven’t recently read your comment policy. If the above crosses a line then please accept my apologies and delete the comment.

    And well done; CFI needs to wither away if it can’t upgrade to the 21st century.

  30. 30
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Translation of the entire non-statement: “We don’t see anything wrong with what Ron Lindsay said, or the context in which he said it. At any rate, we’re not willing to publicly acknowledge that we see anything wrong with what Ron Lindsay said or the context in which he said it. We are deeply unhappy that we have to deal with this controversy. We really wish this whole thing would just die down and go away. But we’re not willing to do anything at all in response to it. We are not willing to take even a symbolic action of censuring Lindsay, or asking him to apologize, or apologizing on his behalf. We are not willing to make any gesture at all indicating that Lindsay’s words and actions in this incident do not represent CFI, and that this is not the direction CFI intends to take in the future. So we’re going to issue a bland, equivocating, weaselly, double-speak statement that doesn’t address the issue in any substantial way, or even in any insubstantial and symbolic way.”

    Quoted for truth. Very well said.

    @11. Parse : On the bits that are “its” and the bits that are “we / our” – I agree and well spotted.

  31. 31
    maudell

    @theobromine
    Thank you for responding to my concerns about CfI Canada.

  32. 32
    LykeX

    Wow, a shiny “we’re sorry you were offended” statement!

    More like “We’re unhappy that you’re offended. We really wish you’d just shut up about it.”

    I’m probably overreading this…

    Well, it’s hard not to. The statement is so empty of any surface meaning that you’re really forced to dig, in order to figure out what they’re really trying to say. The fact that the statement is so apparently vacuous is a clue that the real meaning is buried.

    As such, I think CFI has, in a sense, granted permission to read into it. They can’t very well complain that people are over-interpreting when that’s the only way to extract the least bit of meaning out of it.

  33. 33
    Jackie, all dressed in black

    I’m proud of you for taking a principled stand, Greta.

  34. 34
    John Horstman

    Well, I guess CFI now joins the growing list of organizations that can fuck the fuck off. Most people weren’t calling for Lindsay to resign, let alone chastising the the board of directors or severing donations and other affiliations, but they just couldn’t help grabbing that shovel and digging even further.

    @11: You’re not overdetermining the meaning encoded in the language, you’re recognizing it for exactly what it is. Nice catch.

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